In the wake of the Toronto van attack (image above), media attention is turning to the next strand of online white-guy aggrievement that the mainstream hasn't yet discovered — the self-described "incel" movement.
There'll be endless pieces attempting to interrogate the specific claims made by incel guys online, too many of which will somehow ignore their phosphorescent misogyny, and the many open calls to violence against women you see in these forums. Ella Dawson synthesized this nicely …
Hey media! Incels are the new Gamergate. Are you going to mess this up again? Are you going to laugh them off as a weird curiosity with valid ideas to explore, or are you going to recognize them as a hate movement that has *already* inspired multiple murders?
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) May 2, 2018
Bingo. Mainstream reporters tend to treat each of these different little online cliques of angry, wildly entitled guys as being motivated by some specific, unique, granular problem: They're angry about gamer culture! Or dating and sex! Or immigration and the loss of some nebulously-defined national "culture"!
But they're not terribly different at all. Their beliefs all pivot around the same poles: A matter-of-fact contempt for women and minorities, and a radioactively bitter sense that white guys ought to be easily and widely recognized as inherently superior to every other group. This commonality between their worldviews shouldn't be surprising, because — as David Perry notes in Pacific Standard — these supposedly "lone wolf" mostly-white-guy killers in recent years are, in fact, all in loose communication with each other online.
"They're reading the same websites, talking to each other, and killing the same targets. The lone wolves are actually a pack," as the headline reads, and as Perry goes on to write …
These murders, mostly committed by white American men, reveal patterns, but they're not evidence of some kind of single, secret organization dedicated to committing white-supremacist violence. That tends to puzzle people, because our conception of terrorism is linked to Islam and people of color, but also to cell-based groups like al-Qaeda: When we think of terrorism, we look for secret leaders sending out commands and planning operations. That's just not the model in this case, so when these white men kill, the media, elected officials, and law enforcement respond by disavowing connections to terrorism. These disavowals reveal a basic racism surrounding the word "terrorism," although many officials and reporters just want to keep people from panicking.
But maybe it's time to panic a little, or at least understand that these incidents are connected and require an organized response from our politicians, law enforcement, and media. When hundreds of "lone wolves" are reading the same websites, talking to each other, consuming the same stories, picking up easily accessible weapons, and killing the same targets, they have become a pack.